The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Movie Review
Travelling showman Parnassus (Plummer) performs on the backstreets of London with his lively troupe: his elfin daughter Valentina (Cole), the eager Anton (Garfield) and the tiny Percy (Troyer). One night they encounter an amnesiac, Tony (Ledger), who joins the gang and suggests modernising the show to attract a better audience. What Tony doesn't know is that Parnassus has made a pact with the devilish Nick (Waits), buying immortality in exchange for Valentina's soul on her 16th birthday, which is coming soon. And Tony has some secrets as well.
Even though it's set in modern-day Britain, the film has a medieval feel to it through the colourfully rattling sets and threadbare costumes, plus Gilliam's usual atmosphere of kinetic chaos. It's a fascinatingly inventive world for us to fall into, mainly because we never have a clue where it's going next or what we're going to see. And the cast members maintain a loose restlessness that allows for some inner emotion to emerge. This is especially effective with Plummer and Garfield.
The key to all of this creativity is the doctor's magical mirror, which sends punters into their imaginations, an experience that's either wonderful or horrific, depending on the person. This element also allowed Gilliam to complete the film after Ledger's untimely death, as his through-the-looking-glass alter-egos are cleverly played in three key sequences by Depp, Law and, most effectively, Farrell. It's almost serendipitous that this twist of casting lends the film some subtextual weight it might not have had otherwise, touching on issues of identity along with the more obvious central theme about the masks we all wear every day.
So it's a bit frustrating that the plot doesn't hang together better than it does, lurching through the jarringly twisty story about Parnassus' haunting encounters with the cheeky Nick, during which the doctor gets a chance to save his daughter in exchange for five other souls. This race toward redemption never grabs much traction, but it's so vividly put on screen that we can't help but enjoy the ride.